Monday, May 24, 2010

Apple of My Eye

The house I have rented has a wall of roses up against the back fence. They are gorgeous, but not dense, with perhaps a meter or more between each bush. This space cried out to me and sang 'tomatoes'.

You say tomato; I say tomatoe...right...

Although I brought radish seeds from France, I did not bring tomato. So i went on the hunt for the red tomato. Or the red baron. Or something.

I knew I wanted heirloom varieties and I knew I wnated a selection that would offer pretty colors in the salad-- beyond that, I was clueless.

My friend Jancey took me Nature's Touch in Templeton, about ten miles south of Paso Robles, exclaiming that this was the place for locally grown and certified organic fruits and veg. Located on the main drag (good old Main Street --#225 South Main Street, to be exact; this modern nursery sells plucked veggies and greens indoors ,but devotes the front yard to tables laden with seedlings and sapplings. There must have been three dozen different kinds of tomato plants.
In the end, I chose mostly according to name. This is also how I pick a race horse, although some of the names sound like a drug deal gone sixties:
* Ozark Pink
* Annas Noire
* Beauty Queen
* Yellow Mortgage Litter
* Cherokee Chocolate
* Big Rainbow
* Cosmonaut Volkov
I once did an article about Frida's Finest, and Frida Kaplan -- an exotics broker who brought kiwi and other unusual fruits and veggies into the US-- many years ago when I worked for People Magazine. Through this interview I learned that the term 'chocolate' in fruit is merely a dark brownish, purple color -- so I knew the chocolate tomato I chose was not for Willy Wonka.
I have seen Beauty Queen sold at other nurseries, so it must be popular-- or bought by a lot of vain women who relate to the nomenclature. Other than that, the only other tomato name I know is 'Bifsteak', which I did not buy. I do wonder if the Cosmonaut Tomato is shaped like a rocket ship or if the Ozark Pink is really pink...but we'll jsut have to wait 75 days to find out.
Indeed, the gestation period on most of these plants is 75-85 days, which means that come August, when I usually go to Asia for three weeks, I will have to hire someone to serve as Tomato Monitor to tend my garden-- making this a very expensive bushel of tomatoes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Strawberries & Chocolate

It's not that I have moved to Stepford, but my girlfriends here have shared their strawberry dipping recipe and technique with me.

Here in the Salad Bowl of California, it is strawberry season and there is much talk of Big John, known for his, uh, berries (and their size) at the Templeton market on Saturdays and the Paso Robles farmeer's market on Tuesdays (3-6pm).

With freshly grown and harvested strawberries in hand, I was sent to the supermarket to buy a tub of Dolci Frutta-- a chocolate dipping sauce in microwave container, about $3 (SACO Foods, Middleton, WI; 800/373-7226; One woman did whisper there was a trick to it all but the others just laughed and said it was so easy it was almost a joke.

Ha ha on me. I'm the one who has been using a bain marie and imported chocolate and going to the moon in my efforts to make chocolate dipped strawberries. The ones I tested were perfection, so I was out to follow in my new friends' micro-steps.

THe 4-part directions are printed outside the container. I followed them, although after 1.5 minutes I was almost there and considered quitting. BUT the directions said two minutes, checking every 30 seconds. At the next interval, I had brown cow patties. Uh-oh. Was this the tricky part?

Seems that I was to turn the microwave down to medium and I over-zapped. Still, the sauce was great; Big John's berries were great and I have 0% cholesterol but 9 grams of fat to add to my intake list.

Do not refrigerate.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Hairy Details

Now I'm very certain that all consumers out there want to know what happened with the TV set and if we all lived happily ever after.

So there's yes and there's maybe.

Although I was told that the set would be delivered last Friday and re-delivered on the Monday afterwards, I arrived at the house on Saturday to find the TV set, in its giant box, propped up in my otherwise empty house. This means someone's been sleeping in my bed. It possibly also means that UPS just dropped off the set and left it standing there. Blue moon, you left me standing alone on the porch.

Anyway, today was installation day. So my son Aaron and I had to un-pack the set and assemble it before the cable guy would touch it. And that's when we discovered that one end of the box was bashed in, one end of the foam was shattered and yup, the corner of the otherwise perfect frame to my TV is missing some bits of plastic or is that resin? We found the bits and tomorrow I will find some glue. Plastics, Benjamin.

I am certain I could call or J&R or UPS or someone out there and return the set for an undamaged one...but how long would that take? And being the imperfect sort anyway, I am at peace with a less than perfect TV.

But so much for this kind of shopping. I will never buy a major appliance online again. But then, I've jsut bought a washer and dryer combo off of Craigslist, so if you never hear from me know what happened.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Amazon is A Jungle Out There

Who cares if I was BORN TO SHOP or not...when it comes to getting some basics delivered here before I move to Paso or sent straight to my new house in Paso Robles, I have learned a lot about ordering from Amazon.

I won't whine, but here's what you need to do so it doesn't happen to you: When you get a message like 'buy this in the next 4 hours for delivery on such and such a date' they are sorta kidding. When you go for it, they ask for your zip code and then inform that delivery is not available then in that particular zip code. Since this is all done digitally, you have to hunt around for a half hour to find a phone number to speak to a real person. Whatever a real person is.

I reached a very nice gentlemen in, uh, Mumbai maybe.

Does someone have to sign for it when it comes?
I don't know.
If no one is home, will they leave it or come back later?
I don't know.

We are talking about a very large TV set here, it's not like you can leave it in the mail box.

Seems that Amazon is just the middleman and takes a cut of the action, but provides no information to shoppers or customer service whatsoever. Their promises may be charming, but unrealistic.

I've just had to pay an extra $96.99 in expeditated delivery fees to get within a delivery range that even works for me. But here's the good news -- my TV set is coming from J&R in NYC, a firm I not only trust, but one with excellent customer services skills.

They wrote me back immediately on email to help me through the delivery info, but they gave me Amazon's direct phone number, which is virtually impossible to get online, even from Amazon. Voila: 800-201-7575.

They stated my shipping date was 14 May and the expediated mail was second day delivery, so I would get the package on the 17th-- this worth the extra $100 to me.

Uh oh, THEN they wrote back (we are BFF by now) and the TV set has been shipped -- so now I'm back in the duck soup, trying to straighten this out. And it's all because
a) a large TV set wont fit into anyone's car, so I can't pick it up;
b) Amazon told me I could have delivery on a certain date but fibbed on that, but I arranged cable installation based on their faulty promise;
and c) I couldnt live without TV for any longer than three or four days, especially now that we approach the final episodes of most serial television.

Soooooo I called J&R (800/426-6027) and spoke to Frederico who explained that indeed, the TV will be delivered on Friday to Paso Robles by UPS. If no one is there to sign for the TV, UPS will make a second stab at delivery on Monday!

At last, information we can all use.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Three Outlets & A Baby

Actually this story is about more than three outlets. And there is no baby. But baby, can you have fun if you follow in my footsteps...or simply sign up online to get the info for the next EO Warehouse Sale in San Rafael, California.

Sarah Lahey (Editorial Director of Born to Shop) and I made a renegade run to Paso Robles in order to see the house I rented online with just a quick glimpse at four photos. (It's adorable!) While the drive is just shy of four hours; we took a few more hours and did it our way-- with some outlets on the going and the coming home.

First stop was the Gilroy Factory Outlets -- there are seemingly millions of these, spread over a series of city blocks and addressed with letters of the alphabet so you know where you are. This is one of the four Premium Outlets malls in the California Wine Country...and I think, it's their best.

We had time only for one section -- so we went to Saks Off Fifth, J.Crew, Hugo Boss and whatever was in that portion of the strip. At Saks, we were asked to provide our email addresses in order to recieve a onetime 30% discount on one item. Most merchandise was already marked down 40-65% off the lowest ticketed price. I got carried away and bought a cobalt blue, tiered ruffled Calvin Klein, knit and spandex frock that I didn't try on (big mistake) and a few other items for my new life in hot-weather Paso Robles. I had a mental vision of myself being invited to numerous vineyard events and floating around like a hot-blue cloud. Ha.

Most of my hot-weather clothes are in I am re-booting the wardrobe.

I popped into Hugo Boss to look for a sports jacket for my son (42L), but they began at $449, which was not my idea of a bargain.

On our return to the Bay Area the next day, we stopped in Gilroy again -- this time for the garlic stores. We tried Garlic World, a giant storefront that was most impressive. We bought orange/honey almosts and garlic/ jalapeno pistachios (which when we began to eat we discovered were stale!).

Eventually, we left Highway 280 near San Jose and went onto 880 (we were going north, but this works in either direction) and took the Marina Blvd. exit to get to Marina Square, an oddball outlet and off-price strip.

Here's the Eileen Fisher outlet, where they were selling Spring 2009 at marked down prices and were preparing for one of their 'blowout sample sales'...these feature clothes in a size S, which is of no interest to Sarah or me. I spent a fortune on my summer stock and then moved across the parking lot to Marshall's. This was one of the best Marshall's I have ever visited-- possibly because it's almost Mother's Day or possibly because being near other outlets puts the pressure on them.

I only bought two sleeveless tops, but I was drooling over all the Carole Little merchandise, especially some really cute 60's style, retro cardigans with big bold bright floral prints -- a little bit Lilly in style and perfect for summer air conditioning. I did Carole Little's People Magazine story about 30 years ago and she is still going strong -- now with exclusive designs for Marshall's.

We finished up the day at the EO Warehouse Sale in San Rafael, a mile or two up the highway (or down the highway, it's all perspective) from Sarah's home. Held twice a year in the shipping bay of the EO Warehouse, this sale is mostly to those who get the flyer or the notification (sign up on their web site). EO makes natural bath and body products in a distinctive coblat blue plastic container. I bought bags of bath salts ($2 or $7 depending on size) as well as half a dozen pimp bottles of liquid soap ($3 each) in cinnamon spice, which I must imagine is being discontinued. I would have loaded up on holiday gifts, but I just couldnt get that organized.

Shopping at CDG

All of Gaul may be divided into three parts, but the shopping at CDG's newish Terminal E has a lot more parts to it. And a lot more fun than any threesome.

Terminal E may be ten years old -- I lose track of these things, but since I moved to Paris ten years ago and remember it opening..and closing after a portion of the ceiling fell in...then I think of it as 'new'. CDG is not one of my favorite airports and I have horrible memories of actually crying when lost in one of its pods, but nonetheless, my flight out of Paris was fun once I got past the luggage requirements and code-share mix-ups and into the shopping zone.

Aside from being a light and pleasant-to-be-in space, Terminal E has the usual suspects you would expect in any airport shop, along with duty free stores...but there are also several unique shopping ops: a gourmet grocery store and a French style department store devoted to gifts and small items, many of them for home and table top.

I was amazed to find a Jean Vier boutique within the boutique. Jean Vier is a Basque linen company that makes a stylish twist on the traditional striped fabrics from the region. Usually just in natural linen with red or green stripes, Jean Vier's linens have a rainbow worth of brights. There are no bargains, but the look is stunning and not easily duplicated in the U.S. -- or Paris, for that matter.